DUNEDIN — The Dunedin Public Safety Committee hosted the first-ever quarterly meeting of the city, Neighborhood Watch leaders and the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office last week to discuss public safety in Dunedin.
The discussion revolved around whether a social networking service called Nextdoor could be used to improve communication between residents and the city.
Nextdoor hosts websites for individual neighborhoods. Residents can set up a Nextdoor account and invite their neighbors, creating a centralized location on the Web for their community. Once neighbors' addresses within that community are verified by Nextdoor, they can begin posting updates about road construction projects, warnings of a break-in or even classified ads.
Cities can also choose to partner with Nextdoor. A partnership allows municipal entities, like the mayor's office or the police department, to share information with residents through the community Nextdoor pages. Dunedin is considering a partnership if the Public Safety Committee can get the Neighborhood Watch leaders onboard.
Last week's meeting brought together representatives of 26 of the nearly 60 Neighborhood Watch groups in Dunedin, and hardly any of them knew one another. Nextdoor could change that.
"One way or another, we have to link all of you together, and this was a way for us to do it," said Greg Rice, planning and development director for the city.
Every Neighborhood Watch group already has its own method of disseminating information to its residents — an emailed newsletter, a website or a Facebook group. Thus, the most important feature of Nextdoor to the Public Safety Committee is that it allows Neighborhood Watch leaders to communicate and coordinate with one another on the same platform.
Nextdoor would enable leaders to share Neighborhood Watch strategies or coordinate safety efforts in adjacent communities being hit by a crime wave more efficiently than email or Facebook could.
Furthermore, the city would be able to push out pertinent information through Nextdoor directly to the residents about flooding, for example, or power outages. The sites can be accessed through mobile devices, so residents in an outage area could get updates on their phones.
Nextdoor currently partners with four cities in Florida: El Portal, Kissimmee, Fort Lauderdale and Orlando. There are no partner cities in Pinellas County, though 69 Pinellas neighborhoods have created Nextdoor websites.
Ralph Shenefelt, vice chairman of the Dunedin Public Safety Committee and a Neighborhood Watch leader, created a Nextdoor site for his community more than a year ago. He said that only a fraction of his residents have joined, but those who have are active on the site.
The Public Safety Committee chairman, Mike Quill, sees promise in Nextdoor.
"This effort is to link up Neighborhood Watch communities and, most importantly, have the city communicate directly to those groups as a mass," he said.
About 75 percent of the Neighborhood Watch chairmen in attendance indicated they might be interested in trying the Nextdoor service in their communities, though many expressed concern and nearly all were skeptical.
"I think it's a great idea for the city to have unified communication with the residents. I like the concept. I'm not so sure about the implementation," resident Dan Gerson said.
Rice asked the group to brainstorm other ideas about how to make communication more efficient and bring those ideas to a future meeting.
Josh Solomon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4155. Follow @JSolomonTIMES on Twitter. To write a letter to the editor, visit tampabay.com/letters.